Thursday, December 2, 2010

2010 Deschutes Abyss Release

(the old sign with the new "portland")

Yesterday was a day full of beer drinking that started with a walk over the burnside bridge to the pearl district to attend the release of this years Abyss at the Deschutes brewery, and ended after a couple of hours attending the first day of the Holiday Ale Festival. Today I'm going to cover the trip to Deschutes.

I arrived a few minutes before the pub opened, and saw that the day's beers were only just being offloaded from a truck out front for the event. I joined a small line that had formed at the door that was mostly full of people just waiting to get their hands on bottles. Knowing that these things will be around for a few weeks, my only goal in coming early was to secure a good seat at the bar, and to make sure that I got my fill of some of the rarer vintages before those kegs ran out. I was able to order a vertical flight immediately, and a few minutes later I was sitting in front of a paddle of beers that included 2010 Abyss, 2010 Abyss on Nitro, 2009 Abyss, 2008 Abyss, and 2007 Abyss vintages. I also ordered the Abyss Burger, which turned out to be delicious, although rather pricey - It was cooked in black truffle abyss sauce, and served with mushrooms and onions, melted havarti, and abyss mayo. But back to the beer. Tasting my way through the various beers in the flight, i discovered a few surprises. I thought the 07 was just a bit passed it's prime, the 09 was the worst of the five, the 2010 is probably the best batch I've ever tasted fresh, and it should be a crime to not always offer Abyss w/ a nitro option. After sipping back and forth for a good hour or so, I ranked each beer in my head in the order I preferred them. Here are the results:

The best of the batch was the 2008 vintage. It was rich, full bodied, and very smooth, with just enough lingering heat to warm you up and add an extra layer of complexity to the experience. This was the second most chocolaty tasting vintage to me, and a sip of the 08 reminded me a bit of a chocolate milk with a little spike of bourbon on the back end.

After the 08, I chose the 2010 Abyss on nitro as first runner up. Replacing the prickly CO2 bubbles with velvety smooth nitrogen did amazing things for the heat that fresh Abyss usually exhibits. It was as if the alcohol burn had diminished to the smoothness of the older vintages on the paddle, but unlike those other vintages, the bold flavors of the fresh vintage remained, keeping this rich and complex as well. In the past my feelings have often been mixed about what nitro can do for a beer, but this example really shows the best of what the method can offer. The mouthfeel was nice, but more than anything, I couldn't believe what it did for the heat.

I was not surprised to find those beers in the top two. Between the age of the first choice, and the novelty of the second, they were sure to stand out. Third place surprised me though. The number three spot goes to fresh, regular 2010 Abyss. This one was better fresh than the 2009 was, and it's better fresh than 2009 is now with a year on it. It's the most chocolaty tasting of the batches, and at times it reminded me a lot of previous reserve series black butte anniversary beers. It's hot, but the flavors and mouthfeel of this vintage are bold and complex, and the heat works well as an integrated part of the whole. If the taste of this one coming out of the gate is any indication for the future of this beer, this could be a pretty historic release.

Coming in at number four is the 2007 version. This was the smoothest option by far, but a lot of the flavors have become dull and subdued; as well as integrated to the point that they were hard to pick out on their own. While the almost total lack of heat and supreme smoothness did a lot for this vintage, the dwindling complexity and richness knocked this one down a few pegs for my tastes.

Finally, in last place, was the 2009 version. The kegged version of this vintage did not exhibit any signs of the infection that turned up in the bottled version this year. Standing alone, it's still a world class example of an imperial stout, but in this line-up it was easier to pick it apart for its flaws. The body was noticeably thinner than the other vintages, and the roasty flavors bordered on burnt. The thin feel and less overall complexity on this vintage allowed the heat and burnt astringency to take center stage, and that was enough to earn its ranking at the bottom of the paddle.

After I drank my way through the beers, I chatted with Lisa "the beer goddess" Morrison for a bit about my experiences with both the abyss flight, and the dissident as well.

It was a good morning in Portland.

EDIT: now complete with the Beer Goddess video:


  1. Talk about getting thirsty! I am looking forward to trying the 2010 Abyss. Of course, though, a road trip to one of the two Deschutes Pubs to try a flight like yours would be even better! I was lucky enough to acquire a 2005 unwaxed bottle of Mirror Mirror for Thanksgiving and it surprisingly aged very well. Great review, makes me want to visit Portland again real soon! Cheers!

  2. Looks like I gotta out of there just in time to avoid the camera! You handled it well though. I agree with your thoughts on the vertical tasting (as we discussed at the bar).